I wanted to pull three threads together in this post, which suggest how Cheney instituted torture in this country:
- Alberto Gonzales may have been approving torture even while Condi Rice and others went through the show of getting an OLC opinion to authorize it;
- CIA claimed to be briefing Congress when it wasn’t;
- The Bush Administration then claimed Congress had bought off on torture to persuade those objecting to torture within the administration.
There are also certain parallels with the way Cheney implemented his illegal wiretap program.
Alberto Gonzales’ approvals
As Ari Shapiro reported last week, Alberto Gonzales was personally approving the techniques Mitchell’s torturers would use on a daily basis.
The source says nearly every day, Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top-secret cable to the CIA’s counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House, where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the technique. That would provide the administration’s legal blessing for Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next interrogation.
We know there’s cable traffic from the field back to CIA HQ every day. And we know there’s a May 28, 2002, 4-page cable from HQ back to the Field that roughly corresponds to when Ali Soufan has said the torturers brought out the small box in which they eventually confined Abu Zubaydah. This may mean there’s a seven-week gap between the time the harshest techniques were first okayed, and the time Condi purportedly gave the torture program its first okay on July 17, 2002. As I noted the other day, this raises the possibility that the OLC approval process was all just show, basically endorsing torture that had gone on for some time already.
Is it possible that when Bellinger and Condi asked for an OLC opinion, the CIA’s torturers were already hard at work, and it’s only because Bellinger asked for an opinion that they even bothered? If Gonzales was relaying daily approvals for torture directly to the torturers in the field, then why would it appear that Condi was the one who "approved" the program in mid-July? Why not Gonzales?
It’s a possibility that one of Shapiro’s sources is contemplating.
"I can’t believe the CIA would have settled for a piece of paper from the counsel to the president," says one former government official familiar with those discussions.